I decided to try to find out the name of that “3-note song” that the Southern Cal band plays as often as possible during 4 quarters on Saturdays. Turns out its not really a song, it’s just a few bars of a longer tune called “Tribute to Troy.”
That’s kind of how it is trying to handicap Notre Dame vs USC in 2019. You’ve got to keep an eye on the series history – series history can mean everything when trying to gauge an FBS independent’s chances against a Power-5 rival. Our main source of information on how UND tends to play against Army and Navy each time out is – shocker – Notre Dame’s recent results vs Navy and Army. There are no other comparative-analytics available because “CFP-worthy independent vs flourishing academy team” is kind of its own thing, just like the Fighting Irish and its long-standing rivalries with titans of west coast pigskin is kind of its own deal. Yet at the same time, it’s easy to get lost trying to find too many patterns in past Notre Dame vs USC final scores.
With no conference race to generate loads of analytics, a rivalry game can only be a snapshot in time. Was Fresno State “better” than Boise State when the Bulldogs finally whipped the Boise Blue in the snow late last autumn? Boise State appears superior to Fresno State so far in 2019. All we know is that Fresno was better on 1 crucial night in ’18.
The Irish were better than USC last November – but not by much. Brian Kelly’s genius move to insert Ian Book at quarterback wasn’t an “upgrade” in the sense that Book is more talented than ex-UND field general Brandon Wimbush, but a correct discernment that if his team could improve its pass-completion % substantially, Notre Dame would have a dynamic offense that could score quickly or control the ball. Book had shined for several weeks but wasn’t his usual accurate self when the unbeaten Irish visited SoCal to try to hold serve 1 more time and protect a playoff seed. The QB chucked 16 incompletions and a pick. But the big plays through the air were there, and Dexter Williams got going for 91 yards on the ground as UND prevailed 24-17 at the Coliseum.
Southern Cal’s program has been through a lot since then, losing wunderkind QB J.T. Daniels and looking as inconsistent as too many Trojan squads have been in the modern era. But despite all, Clay Helton’s team is 3-2, and a popular underdog pick on the moneyline even as the point spread remains steady for USC’s visit to South Bend this Saturday night.
Who: Southern Cal Trojans at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
When: Saturday, October 12th, 7:30 PM EST
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN
Lines: USC (+11) at UND (-11) / O/U Total: (59)
I’m skeptical of the narrowing of the point spread for this contest, and not because the Fighting Irish didn’t look vulnerable after losing to Georgia in an early-season Top 10 showdown, or because USC hasn’t proven to be a fierce annual rival for UND.
It’s because Notre Dame has played like every bit a Top 10 team since the UGA loss, while Southern Cal has already begun fading in the Pac-12 pack.
Brian Kelly’s charges whipped Virginia of the ACC a couple of weeks ago, outscoring Bronco Mendenhall’s team 21-3 in the 2nd half behind a terrific performance from RB Tony Jones Jr. Book only attempted 25 (mostly short) passes, but perhaps he’s been governed with the long haul in mind – no flaws showed up in the veteran’s game in 52-0 Week 6 destruction of Bowling Green, and the QB’s touchdowns per-attempt and per-play were off the charts once again.
Meanwhile, the problems at USC have grown beyond a decimated QB position as the 2-3 Trojans floundered against Washington last weekend:
The magic that produced an upset victory the previous week couldn’t be conjured again Saturday at Husky Stadium, where USC was forced to confront reality in a 28-14 defeat to Washington.
Reality was third-string quarterback Matt Fink throwing a pass that was intercepted at the goal line.
Reality was the defense parting and allowing Washington running back Salvon Ahmed to race untouched for an 89-yard touchdown. Reality was the Trojans played against a better team and lost. If the win over Utah eight days earlier inspired optimism, the defeat to Washington elicited a sense of resignation.
The Trojans are a team of fighters, evidenced by how they trailed by 21 points in the third quarter and came within two yards of reducing their deficit to seven. They’re also a team that is careless, which is why they committed three turnovers and eight penalties.
If this game was in Los Angeles – well, if the game was in L.A. it might be played in raging winds. But if Notre Dame was visiting the Coliseum, I could see the Trojans whipping up enough of a pass rush and scoring just enough points to cover. Playing at South Bend makes it too tough for a team that may not reach a worthy bowl game facing a New Year’s bound host.
Take the Irish to cover (-11).